Creating Bridge & Burn required a leap of faith. Founder Erik Prowell quit his job as a software developer, lit the proverbial match, and threw it—burning the bridge of working for anyone else behind him. With no formal training, he trusted his smarts and his strong work ethic, and took the plunge. In that spirit, Bridge Burners is a series showcasing people who are taking a similar leap.
Kelly Cox has her own television show and it’s called: The Original Fare, where she’s credited as its series creator – her brainchild provided in part by the generous friends over at PBS. The concept is beautifully simple: she travels the world to locations like Spain, South America, Barbados, Italy, Sri Lanka and Alaska – doing what she wants, when she wants – and her insane work ethic mirrors that level of feral tenacity.
Her show streams nationally on PBS Foods and is distributed internationally to places like China, Thailand, New Zealand, and Eastern Europe – and boasts a global audience of approximately 22 million viewers – all eagerly watching as she “searches for the best ingredients on Earth.”
Kelly asks, “You know those days when you don’t even know what you did… what your life’s been like?” I absolutely do, and that’s why Kelly’s so accessibly relatable. She talks with a charming, yet curt responsiveness, as she drifts in and out of the metaphorical streams of her own nostalgia, searching for the root of her divergent career path – and one thing’s for certain: Kelly was never the corporate type.
She didn’t burn her bridge with a dim-witted employer, leaving behind a cushy career in finance or marketing to fulfill her dreams. “I burned my bridge with mediocrity when I was fifteen and that basically set me on the path of chaos.”
She re-examines the complexities of her of own persona, but with a stark rationality, this jet setting, television personality, with an untiring devotion to a singular narrative – her narrative, but with food. Her “good food” manifesto transcends the modern tropes of culinary video journalism – this isn’t Man v. Food, she’s not eating cherry pies with her arms tied behind her back.
Kelly crafts buttery narratives of moral validity, but her creative outlook is thoughtfully simple: highlight the real people, with the real jobs: the artisans, the connoisseurs, the laborers, the naturalists, the historians, the families, and any other weirdoes she might stumble upon, (cause why not?).
Kelly’s trajectory can be traced back to her formative years: kicked out of high school at seventeen, left rural Missouri at eighteen, then traded it all in, for the unexpected magic of New York City. “When you live in New York and you’re not of legal drinking age, with a GED – and a little bit of college, but no real formal education. You realize early on that if you’re going to survive in this city: you got to hustle.”
So she hustled, and waited tables for many years, which provided the humble foundations of her unique origin story, but she inevitably grew tired of the rigorous monotony of restaurant servitude – and did what any young, streetwise upstart would do: join the gig economy.
She juggled a variety of odd jobs and freelance gigs, effectively weaving herself through the sporadic randomness of her alternative education. She was once the personal assistant to the self-proclaimed “nightlife impresario” of New York City –a career path that sort of just found her.
“It was kind of a crazy job. You go from handling cash under the table for the Ferraris he’s bought. To procuring the pleasurable company of attractive young models for his wealthy clients.”
Kelly singlehandedly facilitated the nocturnal emissions, and omissions, of a who’s who of eccentric nightclub “personalities,” and through all of that, literally learned how to run a business and became a successful entrepreneur, by proxy.
“So… you’re cleaning up his dog’s shit off the cobble stones of Soho and then through that, you just keep going.”
Though frankly she admits she never really intended to create a “travel show” or be on television – or even become a filmmaker. “Where I grew up. Being in the arts just wasn’t a thing people did.” So she moved on; probably worked harder than most people ever do in their entire lives and still created a show, through perseverance and with a self-taught mentality of failure is not an option.
In her post-club life, Kelly recounts the story of how she met her long-time creative partner and collaborator (now her husband), who at the time was also an unknown filmmaker with a similar creative vision.
“So basically, overnight,” the two formed a production company and started developing content for major brands like Disney, Cisco, The U.S. Open, and ... Alec Baldwin – and then all of a sudden, she had arrived. “I was in this industry… One hustle after another,” eventually snowballing into her unintended dream job.
Kelly’s show developed organically from the core beliefs of her environmentally conscious backbone, and her simple desire to educate young people. Which is easier said than done, but Kelly devised a plan: to create a show that balanced the science, with a sense of humor. To engage the world’s disenchanted demographic – the youth generation, whom she feels are overly pandered to and blasted in face with needless data – “and if the kids won’t listen. It just means they’re bored.”
Her transition into a certifiable television host came with its problems too, as she explains a situation in the early stages of her career, where she was inevitably forced to ride “shotgun” to her own achievements, simply because she was a woman, but Kelly is – well Kelly. Her resilient dedication to passionate storytelling directly led to her working with PBS, but she frankly admits to the financial realities of producing anything as a woman: “I fundraise for every single story I tell.”
During her initial pitch of The Original Fare, long before PBS, Kelly faced the harsh realties of corporate, male-focused entertainment expectations (otherwise known as the “male gaze”). She started receiving phone calls about possible deals with the Travel Channel or Food Network, but with a sexist twist.
“They don’t want to see a woman. So, either replace yourself with a man or be behind the scenes. Or get a male co-host.” Kelly promptly refused and held out for better offers (obviously). “I’m a woman and I do stuff they just don’t want us to do.”
Fast-forward to now, Kelly has a successful series that’s spawned its 5th season, that’s richly satisfying, entirely original, and in her own voice – simply because she refused to compromise. Which is Kelly’s thesis through and through, but like most complex and incredibly original personalities, she driven by the constantly nagging obsession to create stronger, bolder content: “It just depends on the day. There are some days where I’m completely obsessed with making a better show. Or making the show I want to make.”
Yet, she’s ultimately satisfied with the flexibility of her own perfectionism, allowing her to focus on the storylines that are ultimately the most important. The ones that take “sober looks” at the way we, as a culture, raise and consume food (which is also easier said than done).
Kelly Cox is unafraid of the obstacles that stand before her as a female writer, director, producer, host, entrepreneur, and bon vivant – and in the moral compass of her life, Kelly is completely aware of her north star - steadfast, persistent, and precise. She’s completely in control of her own ambitions and the singular goal that steers her: to give a voice to the voiceless.
Kelly challenges the semantic bullshit of our current global dilemma, with heart, humor, knowledge, and I’m assuming whiskey (regardless of quality). She’s the spoon full of sugar and the medicine, all rolled into one – and that’s what makes her so effectively authentic. She doesn’t harsh away from the bittersweet realities our environmental impact, but instead offers her viewers an enlighten state of being, built on optimism and consciousness - and that inspires change.
She’s got stories, (presumably) written with a typewriter and printed on crumpled paper; covered in whisky rings, cigarette burns, and a variety of sticky food sauces (Thai or Oaxacan probably). She’s a party animal, but she knows how to button it up and respond to major (food-related) issues with a sincere honesty that’s timely and emotionally stirring (her episode on chickens in America is graphic and disturbing, but incredibly important). No one really likes to talk about where our food comes from, and we should. There must to be a dialogue – and Kelly helps to foster that line of communication, making her a cultural moderator of sorts.
Kelly Cox is an unstoppable force that will chop you down if you get in her way, like a bullet train, racing at breakneck speeds. So either get on or get off – otherwise the train is leaving with out you.
Written by Jackson Schrader